Proton VPN Free review

Just about the best free option we've ever tested

Proton VPN free review
(Image: © Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

With an unlimited data cap, excellent privacy credentials, excellent connection speeds and and overall pleasant user experience, Proton VPN Free is unrivalled in its class. There are limitations when it comes to P2P sharing and streaming, but for the average user, this is the free provider to go with.

Pros

  • +

    No data or time limits

  • +

    Impressive speeds

  • +

    Secure kill switch

  • +

    Powerful apps

Cons

  • -

    Limited server locations

  • -

    No P2P support or streaming unblocking

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As one of the best VPN providers on the market, the Swiss-based Proton VPN is widely trusted and great for just about any use. However, what really stands out is its free VPN offering, Proton VPN Free. 

With an almost unheard of unlimited data cap for all users, it’s a very generous plan which enables Proton VPN Free users to stay connected all the time, for as long as they want – and this is a major reason why it’s our #1 pick.

The free version of Proton VPN includes many features that other companies reserve for their paid versions. These include a kill switch, WireGuard, and access to tech support. Proton VPN doesn’t skimp on speed, either. During our own in-house tests of this VPN, connection speeds reached 380Mbps. This would be a good performance for paid VPN services, so we were really impressed that Proton VPN delivered this as part of its free program.

One feature that free users of Proton VPN doesn’t get is P2P support, so if you’re looking for a torrenting VPN, you might have to head elsewhere. Proton VPN also doesn’t unlock tv streaming services – although that’s no surprise when it comes to free services.

Proton VPN works on a variety of devices. You can install it on PC, Mac, and Linux computers and on smartphones regardless of the operating system. However, the free version of Proton VPN does limit you to one connected device at a time. Also, you can only access one of three server locations in Japan, the United States, or the Netherlands – the full gamut of server locations is only available for paying customers. Premium services that are omitted also include malware protection and ad blockers, but we’re confident saying Proton VPN Free is the best free option for day-to-day, casual protection.

Proton VPN free review - Proton VPN homepage

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)
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Proton VPN on paper

Number of servers: 3
Number of countries:
3
Platforms supported:
Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux
Simultaneous connections:
1
Split tunneling:
Yes (Windows and Android)
Kill switch:
Yes
Supported protocols:
 WireGuard, OpenVPN, IKEv2, IPv6
Country of registration:
Switzerland
Support:
Email, knowledgebase

Proton VPN Free review: Windows and Mac apps

While it’s a large, powerful app, Proton VPN Free doesn’t overwhelm you with a huge amount of options on the surface, so it’s easy to figure out how to use it without diving into the available guides. You can use the interactive map or the sidebar links to choose the server location you’d like and Proton VPN Free will do the rest. 

Under Settings, you can choose additional protections or functions you’d like to enable along with a little bit of information if you’re not quite sure what each one does. However, the default settings are enough to give you tip-top protection even if you don’t understand what all the other features do.

Some functions aren’t available for Mac VPN users. One example is split tunneling. This feature lets you decide on specific data or applications you’d like to send through the VPN and encrypt while leaving others alone. This helps with connection speeds, both through the VPN and on your regular network, so you don’t have to deal with unnecessary slowdown – but it’s not a make-or-break omission.

Proton VPN Free review: Android and iOS apps

The mobile VPN applications aren’t too difficult to use. Because of the screen size, you won’t be able to see all the features and functions on the dashboard like you would on the desktop version. But it is still very intuitive to use, has the same basic look and feel as the desktop version, and is easy to toggle between the features you need. 

Android VPN users have a slight advantage over iOS VPN users. This is because they can use the split tunnel feature on their phones and have added DNS leak protection, which is especially helpful since cell phones tend to connect to open and unprotected networks as you roam about town, making you more vulnerable to sneaks and hackers.

Proton VPN free review - Proton VPN client

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)
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Proton VPN Free review: Performance

During our tests, we connected to all three locations offered through Proton VPN. There was variation in speed depending on which server we linked to. For example, connecting to the server in the Netherlands we saw speeds of only 130Mbps. However, we reached an impressive 380Mbps while connected to the US server. Since we also test paid VPN programs, it was easy to see that Proton VPN is capable of reaching speeds typically seen with premium programs like TunnelBear.

Unlike some free rivals such as PrivadoVPN Free, Proton VPN Free program doesn’t work with streaming services, so you can’t access content in other countries. This includes popular video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime Video, and in truth this is one of the only areas that Proton is outdone by a competitor. If you choose to upgrade, though, the full version of Proton VPN is one of the best Netflix VPN services.

One great feature of Proton VPN Free is that you do have access to some help if you have questions. Direct person-to-person tech support through telephone or live chat isn’t available, but you can send questions via email. You get an automated reply that your question will be answered in 1-2 days, but in our experience, they come a bit quicker than that.

Proton VPN: Final verdict

When it comes to free versions of VPNs, for general privacy we consider Proton VPN Free to be the very best available (opens in new tab). With all the essential privacy and security features of the paid product alongside excellent connection speeds and an unlimited data plan, it’s the perfect free option for day-to-day usage. If you’re looking to torrent or stream overseas content, you’ll find the limitations intrusive, but overall we haven’t tested a free provider that’s better than Proton VPN Free. 

Nicole Johnston
Commissioning Editor

Nicole is a commissioning editor for Tom's Guide covering everything VPN. With over 17 years of research and writing experience, and 10 years of testing and reviewing internet security solutions, Nicole knows how to dive deep to get the information consumers need to make better buying decisions. She is also a mom to 10 children, and personally uses many of the products she reviews to ensure the safety of her own family.